Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Gravity (2013) – Alfonso Cuaron (Dir.), Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, the infinite abyss of deep space, Neil Degrasse Tyson’s voice in the back of my head going “Na-uh, not how it works”

Either that's Sandra Bullock falling into the infinite darkness of space, or someone who just did a sick break dancing move in zero G.

Either that’s Sandra Bullock falling into the infinite darkness of space, or someone who just did a sick break dancing move in zero G.

There is a place in Chicago. It is a dark place, its covert shadow hidden behind the facade of infinite twinkling lights and signs for Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. A world, a candyland, if you will, of actual candy and misappropriated dreams. It is, at once, a monument to a crowning achievement of civic engineering and, at second, a cesspool of fantastical nonsense. Yes, I talk of course about Chicago’s Navy Pier. It’s neither navy, and it barely gets under the rope of the definition of ‘pier’ but, this hellscape of a tourist trap is the location of the city’s only IMAX theater. The pilgrimage to this end of the universe, this Harry Carray-infested ring of the Inferno, is an ordeal both annoying and existentially testing for any who are willing to endure it. How much do you really need to see Gravity in IMAX 3D BS OMFG HPV ASAP? As much as you needed to see those three scenes from Iron Man 3 that are actually appropriate for a massive fucking screen? Hmmm?

Well, the lady Coleman and I braved the thronging masses of cheapened Chicagoan touchstones as we traipsed into the massive undulating snake tail that is the line into the IMAX theater. To call it insanity is doing a disservice to the mentally ill. It is putrid humanity at worst. And, because this place is run by the version of Schrodinger’s cat that was poisoned in that box and then clawed its way out by way of sheer will and a heart of throbbing evil, one cannot get both snacks AND a movie, seeing as the lines for both are a MILLION MILES LONG. So choose! Would you like sustenance but miss the first fifteen minutes of film? Or do you want a movie while sustaining a mouth drier than the Sahara in a drought? Choose ye and despair!

Erin and I chose the second option. And we were not disappointed. A little parched, but not disappointed.

For all my bellyaching, the concept of this IMAX in 3-Dimensions nonsense has probably saved the theatrical experience from itself. Too often, as technology makes a product more easily accessible, the industry that this practice hurts usually stamps its feet, gnashes its teeth, and holds its breath. However, eventually, people innovate or die. It’s a simple law of the universe. IMAX is an experience one cannot see anywhere other than those monstrosity orbs latched onto museums and theme parks like benign civic tumors. But, lordy, are they incredible. Assigned seating. No bathroom breaks. It’s like going back to school. However, the magic of IMAX is, if done correctly, you can truly be transported. Until this point in my life, I’ve never fully understood what this means, what with the meager offerings of The Dark Knight’s specially filmed scenes or the five minutes of Iron Man 3 that weren’t shot in extreme close-up on RDJ’s beard (don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine beard, but it’s not going to win the mantel of PORE-COUNTING: THE MOVIE aka Les Miserables)…that was, until I saw Gravity.

"Hey, all these screws remind me of your mother." ~ George Clooney will never not be George Clooney

“Hey, all these screws remind me of your mother.” ~ George Clooney will never not be George Clooney

Mr. Alfonso “One Take” Cuaron, otherwise known as Mr. Children of Men, perhaps my favorite film of all fucking time, or as Mr. “The Guy that Destroyed Harry Potter 3”, as that one girl furiously stated on Facebook when Prisoner of Azkaban was released  is one of those bastards audacious enough to have taste and to encourage artistic merit even in his movies about fictitious wizards. What a piece of smegma. Well, after taking a break from, well, the universe, Mr. Cuaron has returned to the screen with his development-hell tale hanging in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Gravity is pretty simple. Sandra Bullock is a medical doctor inexplicably working on the Hubble Telescope, cracking jokes with George “He’s Never Not George Clooney” Clooney as a veteran NASA space-man. During a routine upgrade, the Russians blow up a satellite which then causes a barrage of 20,000 mile an hour debris to shred them like one ply toilet paper. From there, the script takes the hero’s journey in its elemental form: get from A to B to C. I’m talking physically. The script is basically a set of celestial GPS directions. And that’s just fine.

There are few things that have to be acknowledged with Mr. Cuaron’s achievement here, because it is an achievement of almost every kind. First and foremost: technical. I don’t know the name of his cinematographer, but the man must have been touched by god in the womb. This guy is the Jesus of the long-take. Cuaron approaches him being like, “Yo, I have like four shots…” and this guy shakes his head and, like water into wine, is like, “Nah, son. ONE shot.” I think you can count the number of shot breaks in Gravity on one hand. And, while in Children of Men this was more a gimmick, a penis-showing contest, if you will, in Gravity it is nothing but seamless. I completely forgot that the camera hadn’t broken from its subject after a while. Granted, with this thing showing more CGI than a George Lucas Weight Loss Convention, it might be considered a dubious honor. There is no question that Cuaron has crafted something harrowing, intense and all-consuming. In the few moments of breath Ms. Bullock takes before leaping into yet another Zero-G Shit Fest (note to self: open club called Zero-G Shit Fest), we too are forced to come up for air if only momentarily before being dragged into the emotional maelstrom on display. For the length of the film’s 90 minutes I never once tore my eyes from the screen. Such an act would be one of sacrilege, an affront of the gods of cinematography. You might miss a panoramic view of the Earth’s surface at sunrise, or Ms. Bullock sucking down the last of her oxygen while escaping the current of her suffocating panic attack. If seen in the right way, you won’t be able to look away. In this day and age, that demands an award of the highest order.

"Hey George, George, hey George...wanna see my Mission: Impossible impression? George? ...George?" ~ an awkward moment of realization for Ms. Bullock.

“Hey George, George, hey George…wanna see my Mission: Impossible impression? George? …George?” ~ an awkward moment of realization for Ms. Bullock.

Though, with any experiment in technicality (because, let’s be real, that’s what this is) there are some drawbacks. Through Cuaron’s constant employment of POV and the excessive prevalence of CGI the action looks more of a video game than anything else. This is a meager complaint because that comment usually means that the movie is about as exciting as watching your 12 year old cousin play Call of Duty for about 10 hours straight. Here, the opposite is true. In fact, it seems as though Cuaron has finally realized the mecca of video-game cut scene excitement that all Call of Duty games reach for. Unfortunately, those network-connected plebs (read: most males between 18 and 30) are too locked into a video game to come and see this exercise in zero-G storytelling. The other drawbacks are that of character and literary theme. When most of the movie is people screaming and begging for lives versus nature, there’s little room for nuance. Granted we get snippets of backstory for both Clooney and Bullock…but who gives a shit? Other than one fascinating comment from Bullock about her daughter, their characterization is a futile experiment. Most of the dialogue is directional and plainly objective. Any subtext is fairly useless when the ISS is exploding behind you.

Between the eruptions and the tension, there are some clever strings being pulled. Cuaron is a smart man, smart enough to make a movie about a lack of child birth into something about hope for a dying future. This movie plays with a few themes in a subtle manner. Firstly: nature vs. humanity. It’s clear from the opening credits that space is uninhabitable. It seems as though Cuaron intends to encourage humanity to keep its feet firmly on the ground. Though it is called “Gravity“, that character never makes an appearance. It is the Godot to Bullock and Clooney’s Didi and Gogo. They beg for it to be there and yet it isn’t. Cuaron is careful that very little of this movie, in space terms, is extraordinary. The events of the catastrophe come from nothing more than routine work. Even when the missile strike is discussed over the radio, Housten is barely worried. The entire movie is an example of how deadly the universe is when humans are stripped of their basic assumptions namely: gravity, oxygen and heat. I mean, it seems obvious, but with movies such as Star Wars and Star Trek purveying absurd inaccuracies about the very nature of space travel, it’s refreshing to see a genre dragged back to its roots. Unfortunately, for the most part it’s a one trick pony, unlike its brilliantly bizarre and superior predecessor 2001: A Space Odyssey (SPOILERS: George Clooney is the massive space baby). It’s interesting to note that it’s a sad day for NASA when movie makers need to historicize a fictitious event that had to happen in the PAST when concerning SPACE TRAVEL. That’s right, since the shutdown of the space shuttle program, this movie is impossible. What the Carl Sagan fuck, guys?

In space, it's all a mater of perspective. Here it looks like Sandra Bullock is about to be crushed my a fucking space station. BUT if you turn your head, she's the strongest member of the 'SPEED' cast the world' ever known.

In space, it’s all a mater of perspective. Here it looks like Sandra Bullock is about to be crushed by a fucking space station. BUT if you turn your head, she’s the strongest member of the ‘SPEED’ cast the world’s ever known.

Cuaron carefully plays with both space and time (no joke intended – okay, fine, there was a joke but I was too lazy to make it. DEAL WITH IT). Firstly, though space is infinite, I’ve never felt so claustrophobic. Both he and his cinematographer are obsessed with examining the beauty of the cosmos…but that beauty is a distant creature. All they have in the meantime is the vacuum of nothingness. Every vessel they visit is the size of a boarding school bathroom stall, barely enough room to fit two children, even if one of them has their head in a toilet, and that kid is totally not me, I’m just using a hypothetical situation to prove a point and I certainly don’t still have a debilitating fear of clockwise rotating water. All things taken for granted on earth (100 meters, fire, momentum, etc.) are a mess in space. Seeing Bullock and Clooney handle each challenge moment to moment is thrilling and, somehow, never hits the point of diminishing returns. Even that video-game-esque excitement of the POV shots adds to the crushing sense of closeness, our protagonists’ faces always reflected on the meager barrier between them and the obliterative death of deep space. Likewise, time takes on a new meaning out in the black. You are constantly aware of the debris barrage coming every 90 minutes, though each second seems an eternity. There is a moment when Bullock reaches safety for the first time and removes her suit, she lies, floating in the airlock, like a baby in the womb, curled tightly into a fetal position. The seconds tick away and she doesn’t move an inch. It is not only a powerful moment of relief, it’s also a transformation where, for the first time, we see her as a fully-fledged and vulnerable human being.

From here on…there be SPOILERS. Beware…

Most of the movie is Sandra Bullock grabbing things. If you don't like it, you're an IDIOT.

Most of the movie is Sandra Bullock grabbing things. If you don’t like it, you’re an IDIOT.

This, as with Children of Men, is a story about hope. It’s the tale of a person facing insurmountable and deadly odds, one that will not only kill but utterly dehumanize before the end. It’s about people seeing the end of their fate and deciding to press on into the darkness. In CoM, because, yes that movie is so essential to society that it requires an abbreviation, we see Clive Owen beaten, slammed, shot, tortured, chased, and generally emotionally mutilated, all in service of saving the first child born in 20 something years. Gravity plays with similar themes though reduced like a fine sauce to a simmering and simple delicacy. The is no need to save earth, it’s just a tale of survival. For the length of the movie I expected Bullock to bite the proverbial space dust. However, she persists, hallucinating her way into action and doing the impossible to find her way back to Earth. Every inch of the way, your heart is hurting for this poor woman as she has to go through catastrophe after catastrophe all of it caused by a routine satellite SNAFU. Cuaron makes an interesting point of highlighting the deadliness of the mundane especially in Bullock’s story about her daughters death (hackneyed choice, b-tee-dubs, guys, but I’ll let it slide. The script isn’t exactly the work of a master. “GRAB ONTO SOMETHING, ANYTHING!” is just a teensy bit short of Shakespeare. But whatevs) she discusses that her kid tripped while playing, hit her head and died. Nothing more to it. It’s that spark of the minor devastations that drives this tale to its optimistic end. But while my heart yearned for her to survive, my mind begged this movie to be slightly more complex. It’s not. There was something chilly to the ending of Liam Neeson tour-de-wolf-punching-force The Grey (both literally and figuratively), where it becomes apparent that the film following the survivors of a plane crash in Alaska slowly succumb to the elements until they’re left as frozen meat-cicles. I hoped for a similar end to Gravity. Perhaps something mildly ambiguous…not Sandra Bullock standing in red mud while the orchestra climaxes (both literally and figuratively).

The only actual complaint I could have about Children of Men is the ending. The same is mostly true of Gravity. You beg them to survive, you pray and hope and clench and hold your breath and then…when they do, you find yourself lacking. We, the audience, are children screaming for a big-kid meal…but when we get it, we’re disappointed, unaware that we didn’t actually want a positive ending at all. It’s beautiful to think there is an intelligent artist doing good work in the horrifically existentially disemboweling creature that is Hollywood, pumping out tales of unfettered hope. I guess…I don’t want that. I wanted Sandra Bullock to die. And this is the first time in like two years that I wanted it to happen for a reason other than because she won the Oscar for The Blind Side. I wanted this to be about man’s folly in confronting nature, just like I did with Sunshine. But then people win against nature and, once more, it transforms a harrowing tale into one of a power fantasy. Where’s the ‘cautionary’ in the cautionary tale? Le sigh.


Either Ms. Bullock is drifting into the abyss or this is the laziest Muse album cover I've ever seen.

Either Ms. Bullock is drifting into the abyss or this is the laziest Muse album cover I’ve ever seen.

In the end, sci-fi is a limping, damaged filmic genre. These days people are more content to settle for nonsense like Star Trek Into Darkness and everything to come out of the penis that spawned Transformers and Battleship. It’s refreshing to see something different, something challenging. Should it win Oscars? Maybe for technical achievements. Anything else? Not in my humble (read: not humble in the slightest) opinion. Remember Avatar? No? Good. This is a piece of technical brilliance with a thematically cogent tale laid over the top, like flesh over the metal innards of the Terminator. In a few years, these tricks and techniques will be old. Watch Avatar again and yawn. Why? Because it’s fucking stupid. The magic of newness died long ago. It’s amusing to read Neil Degrasse Tyson’s comments about the factual inaccuracies of this movie. A fire extinguisher will not propel you in a direction while in a vacuum. Why? Because science. Maybe, hopefully, one day this movie will simply be an artifact of past ignorance. Future children (new band name!) will view this on a zero-G hologram computer and laugh, much like I giggle my ass off at Bullock’s absurd indictment of the Internet in 1995’s The NetUntil that point, well done, Cuaron. You are still one of the most talented and interesting directors out there. And I love you.

Wait. Ignore that last part. I don’t want it to be creepy.

The Faculty (1998) – Robert Rodriguez (Dir.), Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Famke Janssen, Clea Duvall, Robert Partick, Bebe Neuwirth, Jon Stewart, Usher, Salma Hayek, OMG everybody

Oh yes, Usher is in this. You know what no movie ever needs? Usher.

Apparently, Halloween is terrible for my personal growth, both the physical and the metaphysical. Every goddamn place has goddamn candy every goddamn where I goddamn go and I have to eat it. You know why? Because I have a soul, people. Also, the horror genre becomes required, repugnant viewing for the entirety of the October season. Thus more abject cinematic ass-sludge glosses across my gaze. All I can do is sigh and allow wave after wave of nonsensical plot twists, colon-based art direction, and massive blood-brazed breasts to wash over me. Yes, I was meant to watch The Blair Witch Project last night, according to the poll…but I decided to wait around to see it with my lady friend. Instead, I got trashed with a fellow lady-blogger (not that I’m a lady-blogger, that ‘fellow’ was only in reference to the ‘blogger’ part. I’m not insecure, I promise). Whilst in the throes of a madness brought about my mediocre Trader Joe’s wine, the Mark of the Maker and, of course, beer (the potatoes of alcohol, which are, in turn, the meat of vegetables – look it up), we scoured the ‘Horror’ tab of the Flix of Net. There, we discovered a gem, a time capsule if you will, an artifact from the nineties saved in pristine condition. Much like a mammoth dumb enough to stand in the same place long enough to be frozen and preserved like the asshole it is, we found this shiny little asshole glinting in the midst of genre-whorish nonsense. All we had to do was remember Josh Hartnett’s haircut and the decision to watch was unanimous.

Ah, the 90s. A simpler time. A gentler time. A time when all I had to worry about was good grades and not sticking my private parts in a blender (almost happened a surprising number of times). A time when girls had cooties and punches in the crotch were a commonplace condoned social activity. A time when Michael Bay could only boast The Rock and Bad Boys on his resume. A time of innocence. I wandered into The Faculty, not knowing my elbow from a specific area of my rectum and I was dazzled, enthralled, entranced, enraptured and enbiggened (I discovered the amazingness that is Famke Janssen…even when she has a decapitated squid-head). It was shiny, sweary, bloody, scary, pretty and goofy. Everything an 11-year-old could ever want. Does it hold up to the scrutiny of hindsight? Does it survive the test of time? Is it, in truth, a worthless collection of absurdities threaded together into a quilt of such horrifying incompetence that it literally causes momentary blood clots in the brain?

The answer might surprise you…but it probably won’t: This movie isn’t good.

Things no one is ever meant to see: the T-1000 mixed with alien squid monster. That is the stuff of bed-wetting nightmares.

BUT. And that’s a big ‘but’. Not like J-Lo big (you know, enough to have its own gravitational field) but maybe a Jessica Biel (shockingly large for a white girl with no talent). It ain’t that bad. This will take a lot of qualification. Let’s start at the beginning. This movie is about stars before they were famous doing things that they probably omit from their storied resumes. We have Josh Hartnett as the bad-boy genius drug-dealer wearing FAR too many t-shirts and sporting a haircut that, in silhouette, looks suspiciously like Daffy Duck’s behind (we later learned that ‘he cut it himself’ according to my lady-blogger’s far-too-Hartnett-informed friend. The 90s were a time of choices); there’s pre-Frodo Elijah “DOES THAT KID EVER AGE?” Wood as the nebbish newspaper photographer, Jordana “Why does her face look like it’s made of moldy clay?” Brewster as the hot one, Clea Duvall as the lesbian punk chick, some dude with pubic hair on his head as the jock, and the suspiciously new/naive/hot/apple-pie/oh-my-god-it’s-so-obvious-she’s-the-bad-guy girl. This rag-tag bunch of miscreants uncover a plot by the T-1000 (Robert “If He Were My Girlfriend’s Father I Would Jump Out a Window” Patrick) to infect the entirety of the school, Faculty first (eh? Eh? See what they did there?) with evil squid puppeteer monsters that turn the afflicted into invincible, serenely psychotic killing machines. It’s up to these idiots to find the queen (SPOILERS: it’s the new girl) and kill her with caffeine pills while classic rock songs of the 70s and 80s are cannibalized by Creed… Yes. Creed. Alice Cooper…by Creed. CREED! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? GODDAMN YOU! DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL! (Not sure where that came from. I guess I have some unresolved issues with Creed. They are the Nickleback of Christian Rock…well all of Christian Rock is the Nickleback of Christian Rock. It has that je ne se pas…that sine qua non…that aurally-abortive quality we look for in all rage-inducing terribleness. *Shudder*).

“I’ve NEVER witnessed a milkshake explosion. I don’t think it’s even possible.” ~ Famous last words.

So…on the surface, this is a fairly by-the-numbers vehicle for a star who crashed and burned with the rest of the US fleet after Pearl Harbor (too soon?). However, beneath the sheen of awful late-century soundtrack choices there’s a little more humming under the hood. This was the first real studio picture after the nonsense that was From Dusk ‘Til Dawn (side note: everyone see that movie. It is terrible, batshit insane and one of the most beautiful acts of cinematic defecation you will ever witness) by Mr. Robert “Bitch, Please” Rodriguez. For all of his ridiculousness of sophomoric inclinations, the man knows how to construct a movie. For science-fiction/horror, this thing has more characters and relationships than a Shakespearean Key-Party (Benedick would totes do all the ladies). We’ve got satire tip-tapping it’s sneaky little digits across the piano of human distress and bleakness that is made of disenfranchised teachers, each of them stripped of their humanity one by one. We have the intersection of high school social strata, from the jock wishing to be reevaluated for his intelligence to the nerd falling for the hot girl. All things considered, Rodriguez achieves something almost fascinating. What seems to shallow on the surface, subtly subverts expectation, both of character and theme, and attempts to use its frame of an Invasion-of-the-Body-Snatchers-equse tale to unearth some uncomfortable truths pertaining to totalitarianism, gender relations and their place in our education system.

So, beyond the ear-bleedingly terrible covers of great songs, what is going on here? We’ve got ‘Every-School-Ever’ in ‘Some-Town’ Ohio. Now, based on the choice of our villain being a water-based, shape-shifting, tentacle-flinging, ear-rapey squid monster, it’s odd that its selected target is an almost land-locked state in the middle of fucking nowhere (and I know this because I went to school there. If Samuel Beckett’s plays could be a state, they’d be Ohio. Or Indiana. Seriously.) Though nerds would contend that this would be a lapse in logic on the part of the nefarious Squidworth, it seems that the selection is one that sets you off. This is meant to be any school anywhere. This thing could have appeared in the middle of Seattle (and murdered some Twilight suckers) or Nevada (squid-hookers anyone?) and the end result would have been the same. As someone who is deathly afraid of any kind of mental-nomming invasion (be it zombie, infection, pod-people, spores or herpes) that shit gives me the willies! The willies, I tell you!  In terms of the social commentary, we’ve got a few other minute threads caught in the Creed-tainted wind flittering about. Schools have no money. Teachers hate their jobs. Students hate school. Students and teachers have inappropriate relationships. PUBLIC SCHOOL IS MISERABLE. That is, until an overlord of the ‘ignorance is bliss’ ilk decides to give it a shot. And you know what? They look super happy! Suckin’ on their water bottles and vomiting parasites into ear-holes, they’re all just so content. It almost makes you question, is humanity really all that great? Wouldn’t it be simpler to just sacrifice ourselves to the placidity of a hive mind and relieve our lives of the burden of choice? Why can’t we all just become human batteries fueling a perpetual dream of awesome fight sequences with Hugo Weaving? I mean, come on, we are responsible for poverty, the collapse of public education, global warming, nuclear weapons, slavery and, of course, Creed. For the love of sweet baby Jesus, CREED.

And that was the moment Jon Stewart’s ‘Ping Pong’ demonstration took a dark and inappropriate turn…

Those odd musings aside, perhaps the must unsettling and perturbing element of this film involves a certain lifeless, talentless, goateed science teacher who gets his fingers removed with a paper cutter and his eye impaled with a caffeinated ball-point. Yes, that teacher is none other than Jon Fucking Stewart. It is so jarring, so unpleasant, so fucking strange to see him with facial hair that I felt the overwhelming liberal segment of my brain headdesk itself inside my own skull. It’s as though his evil twin had come through to this universe from one where Sarah Palin is president and Donald Trump’s antics go un-ridiculed to spread the malevolent nature of Jon Stewart’s acting career. Have you seen that guy try to say lines he hasn’t written? It’s like a stoned piece of wood deciding to play dead. It’s worse than Keanu Reeves. Consider that, plebs. The poor guy stumbles his way through scene after scene of not hosting his own show but rather saying words while pretending to be another human being who has a squid parasite living in his brain and making him invulnerable all Stepford Wife-ish. You know. ACTING. I love you Jon Stewart. I love how you make the political world made sense. You digest the swarming maelstroms of bovine crappery and distill it into a foul, yet funny, commentary on the disintegration of civil discourse and modern journalism. But please, please, PLEASE for the love of all that is good in the world: the birds, the bees, babies giggling and farting at the same time, dogs chasing their own tails and that one video about a gentleman not sure about the things going into his butt…never, never, NEVER act in anything ever again. God, it’s almost as bad as Creed.



Fahrenheit 451 (1966) – Francois Truffaut (Dir.), Oskar Werner, Julie Christie

Fahrenheit 451: starring a really pretty lady and a Bill Murray impersonator.

And now we get to see me truly live up to my twitter handle (@filmicignorance – huzzah for self-plugging!). Seriously, if we discuss basic camera movements, directorial choices, mis en scene, etcetera, ergo, ad infinitum, I can bullshit rather successfully. But when it comes to actual knowledge of cinematic history, I’m a fish out of water. And much like that trout you’ve just tossed into a hilarious situation, I shall flounder and splutter, make up words and bellow opinions. However, in the end, I don’t know shit about French New Wave. And wikipedia can only get you so far. Well, with that said, let’s dump this piscine writer out of his natural aquatic habitat.

This film came about as a suggestion from a good friend and secret pretentious ass, Guy. He’s a hair stylist. He reads a lot of books. When we discovered that Ray Bradbury had passed away a week or so ago he demanded, nay, ordered me to watch this movie. It was on the list. Julie Christie was in it and it had a fancily named director that seemed familiar. My response was ‘sure’. So, after a night of heavy, heavy drinking, returning to my house at 5am and splitting my new jeans in half, I decided to take a gander at this handy little adaptation of a Sci-Fi classic.


Firstly, to those of you who don’t know…you fucking should. Ray Bradbury was a badass. They force children to read his books in school. I’m sure you have skimmed the spark notes of Fahrenheit 451 or maybe Something Wicked This Way Comes. If you have not read these books FOR SHAME. For SHAME on you, sir or madam. Bradbury, unlike many Science Fiction writers, could actually fucking write. I know, it’s a novel-ty (see what I did there? Haters gonna hate). His tales of dystopian futures, foreign planets and stepping on butterflies in the past not only force some extremely poignant and disturbing questions on what place technology has in society, but he also manages to meld each of these with a constant exploration into the disenfranchised and isolated adult male. I recently went back to read Something Wicked, hoping for a crazy/scary/juvenile romp through an evil circus…only to find all these sad middle-aged assholes longing for something deeper and more from their suburban lifestyles. So, no matter how much I wanted evil dwarves, sand witches, illustrated men and bearded ladies with meat cleavers, I was left with the question of…”When I’m fifty, will I regret my life?” And that was a fucking kids book.

Why didn’t anyone tell Truffaut that this image is really silly? Do the French not have the same silliness glands as the rest of us?

So what happened here? Fahrenheit 451 is a fascinating, if deeply-flawed, concept of the future. One without books. In fact, books are illegal and firemen are those whose job it is to dispose of said contraband. With fire. (Since regular firemen no longer exist because all the houses are conveniently ‘fireproofed’, not taking into account organic food stuffs, paper and, you know, human beings). So…everyone’s illiterate? Apparently not. But there are robot dogs that are amazingly terrifying and underground book traders and funny uniforms and…well, you get the gist. It ain’t that complicated but it raises serious concerns about the direction society at large has taken with the advent of television and film… I wonder what Mr. Bradbury thought of Kindle. Probably, “Fuck Kindle.” I’m paraphrasing, of course.

This movie was inevitably going to receive the ‘film’ treatment. Much like Something Wicked (Pam Grier…what the fuck do you think you’re doing?) and A Roll of Thunder (Ed Burns, why do you still have a career? And Ben Kingsley, you should be ashamed for, well, everything except Gandhi), this one has some major dramatic potential. Well, let’s make it Francois “Father of French New Wave and Doesn’t Speak English” Truffaut to direct. Amazing! He’s an Artist with a capital ‘A’! And let’s get Julie Christie, a woman so beautiful, we’ll cast her in both main female roles! But of course she can play more than one character! And let’s piss off Terence Stamp (who was going to play the awesomely named ‘Guy Montag’) and replace him with a German dude who couldn’t pass for English if he lathered himself in bad teeth and warm beer. And let’s make it Truffaut’s first English-language movie! And his first color movie! What can go wrong?

Apparently, everything. From what I understand from wikipedia-ing for about 10 minutes (because, honestly, who reads anymore? Come on.) French New Wave was a style of film that employed extremely naturalistic settings, almost documentarian in nature, as well as clipped scenes, natural light and diegetic sound. I suppose the objective is to construct a new, stripped-down way of making films to avoid the over-elaborate nature of operatic film scores, special effects and general falsity. Well, like that dude who gets killed at the beginning of The Warriors, I can dig it. In fact, Goddard’s Breathless was crafted in this style, a movie I’m itching to finally see. Truffaut wrote that. He’s the father of the entire movement (one of them at least).

Well, like a father, pulling up his terribly-washed jeans, Truffaut wanders over to his children playing the latest video games with their friends, asks to join and then throws the controller across the room when he realizes none of it makes any fucking sense. This isn’t his ground. He is out of his element, Donnie. You can’t make a movie in a dystopian future using found costumes, found locations and found objects. Why? Because in the future, it’s going to be fucking different. I love that Truffaut gathered up real, in-use books to burn on set. I love that the costumes, other than the hilariously terrible ‘firemen’ are cut right out of Vogue 1965. Here’s the problem, it is almost 50 years later and no one dresses like that…unless somehow, during this uprising, the hipsters overcome the rest of us and demand that we return to the fashion of 1960s England. The kicker is that some of the people are costumed, some of the sets are made. It’s as though the art director had a heart attack halfway through his designs or was mysteriously bumped off and his body was never found at the base of the stairs of Pinewood Studios and chopped up into little pieces and then hidden in the walls… I’ve said too much. (It’s murder. What do you expect? Truffaut is French. If at least three affairs and two murders don’t occur on a French film set, then the whole project is an abject failure. That’s science.)

Also, the man doesn’t speak English. He wrote the script. IN ENGLISH. No wonder everyone sounds like they just had a lobotomy with a complimentary bottle of wine (aka, French Lobotomy). The only point that I need make on this matter is this: the actual tagline for the film is “Aflame with the Excitement and Emotions of Tomorrow.” How did this man manage to make a science fiction film sound like a prostitute’s yeast infection?

And now: special effects. Notice the wires at the ends of the tube things. Yep. Top quality.

This mis-applied film style pushed this movie to the halfway point of crazy. There were two things that knocked it over the line. One: color. It looks like Van Gogh puked on this movie. Everything is so goddamn eclectic and bright, I almost had a seizure. That and the random bouts of slow motion, frantic zooming and inexplicable panning, I was ready to spew. Well, that might have been the hangover. But, as in all things, I blame the French.

The second force yanking this confused beast into the land of bat-shit is the acting. Firstly, we have Julie Christie who, though she is really pretty, speaks lines as though she just discovered the English language and is excited to tell you all about it. One of the more interesting choices on the part of the director was to have Christie play both female lead roles, Montag’s wife and the rebel who leads him to the book-side of things. What this does is reinforce the idea that Montag, as he falls from grace within the cutthroat world of fire-manning, doesn’t leave and change sides simply because of a pretty face. She has the same face as his wife, you know, the lady he is legally obligated to bang. The girl is simply convenient, a lubricant, if you will, to encourage his slippage through the revolutionary birth canal. Woah, that metaphor got weird fast. I apologize. Anyway, the whole thing would have worked if Julie Christie knew how to play anyone other than Julie Christie. She smiles, gasps, speaks words and all the rest of that stuff in exactly the same way at all times. The only thing that changes is her haircut. Thank god, otherwise this would have been confusing as hell.

Christie is one thing. Incompetent, perhaps, but serviceable. Who really steals the shit-show is Oskar Werner. As the story goes, Truffaut was all lined up to have resident badass and only-person-on-earth-who-could-make-Michael-Caine-nervous Terrence Stamp to play Montag. That shit would have been amazing. But…Stamp had already slept with Julie Christie and was worried she’d upstage him. I wish I could have gone back to 1966, taken him aside and said “Terry, bubby, look at me. Christie couldn’t upstage a fucking tree. At least a tree changes seasons occasionally.” But, alas, time travel hasn’t been invented yet. And if it comes about during my lifetime…then obviously I attempted and failed in this endeavor. So, future Andrew, I’m sure you gave it your best. But…you suck. Anyhoo, back to the point: Truffaut thought, (in French, so imagine him wearing a beret, holding onions and twirling his mustache) “No Stamp. This film is set in England? What is the most sensible thing to do? Hire another English actor? OF COURSE NOT. That would be far too predictable. I shall have a German.” And so, Oskar Werner was hired. The man is about as British as Idi Amin is Scottish. Not only is he German, but the guy does not give a fuck. Not a single, solitary, crying alone at night, orphaned fuck. Again, according to wikipedia, Truffaut and Werner hated each other. Thus, Werner attempted to drive the film into the ground. Well, good job buddy. You won. This thing couldn’t be more into the ground if it were Anne Heche’s career (younger readers might ask ‘who?’ and I respond with ‘exactly’.)

Coolest scene in the movie. Bitch got burned.

Now, this movie, though an utter mess, still has some formidable artistic merit. I do believe that there is a worthy adaptation of this tale out there. In fact, a remake might be the perfect treatment. Get some actual art direction, a terrifying robot dog and a director who doesn’t have both thumbs up his anus (of the thumb-in-anus category: Michael Bay, Brett Ratner, Peter Berg, etc.) and you could make something truly worth watching. This movie is worth a gander. Past all my pissing and moaning, there were several truly haunting and affecting scenes lodged in amongst the mess. The part where the old woman sets herself on fire? Awesome. Also, Bradbury enjoyed this adaptation solely because of the final scene. We’re left with all of the rebels who, in fear of losing the books they truly adore, memorize every single text and then burn the evidence. We’re left with dozens of people, wandering aimlessly through the snow, repeating the words of poetic greats over and over, each of them stripped of their humanity and reduced to nothing more than literary titles. A living library. With no other purpose than to remember their text.

What’s the point of loving books if you can’t enjoy them? What cost did these people end up paying? What’s the end? Just remember until you die and pass it on to someone else? Well played, Mr. Bradbury, well played.